September has been a good month for contemporary romances in my view because all three of these books were excellent. They are also all out because even when I’m closer to on time with my reviews than I’ve been in a while, I’m still running late with them. I have to thank Netgalley an the respective publishers for the advanced e-copies, but I read all of these books in their final form. The Shaadi Set-Up by Lillie Vale is published by Putnam and the finished copy has the floppiest pages and they’re so soft. I highly recommend the experience for more than just that. The book was great, but I’ll say more about that later. A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria was one of the books that I pre-ordered when Barnes & Noble had that preorder sale and I have zero regrets. It was amazing. And then finally, With You Forever by Chloe Liese is a book I consumed via audiobook thanks to Hoopla and I, unsurprisingly, loved it. I’m really excited to review these books for you today so let’s get started!
The Shaadi Set-Up by Lillie Vale
In a lot of ways, this book felt very much like it was written for me. Not in the sense of a shared culture as I am very much a white girl, but this book is set outside of Chapel Hill so the towns were familiar, had Red by Taylor Swift vibes throughout, has an entire HGTV style premise, and features a woman figuring out what she wants professionally (and personally). There is literally no way to craft a book with more of my interests than that. I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a few other things I also really loved that were like niche moments that screamed my name but I’ve hit the major highlights.
Anyway, I suppose instead of gushing about why The Shaadi Set-Up was perfect for me, I should probably tell you more about it so you can decide if it will also be perfect for you. Essentially, the book opens and Rita is dating Neil, in a relationship that is fairly new and he thinks they should let their parents in on the secret and Rita does not. She also thinks that Neil talking to his mother every morning for ages and dropping everything every time he calls is a little exhausting. One day, Rita goes over to her parents home to use one of her dad’s power tools and who should show up but her ex-boyfriend and first love, Milan. The two wind up being sort of coerced into working together by their respective mothers and… Let’s just say things take off from there.
I really loved this book. There’s something about Vale’s writing style that really worked for me. Here’s one of the first quotes that solidified for me that Rita would definitely have been blasting Red when the breakup happened: “I’m scared to be the one who cares more, who cares too much. I might have been a girl who waited, but he can’t know that a part of me is waiting still.” Honestly, Rita’s feelings throughout the book, as she and Milan make slow cautious steps toward one another as friends and then excruciatingly slowly as more than friends, and Rita sorts out what she thinks she wants in other areas of her life, I was just captivated. I love character’s finding themselves and who they are and who they want to be.
Ultimately, I think that what kept me from giving this book a full five stars and loving it without reservation was the end. I think, for me, the third act break up is such a difficult thing to pull off successfully and this book came so close to making it, but I just needed a little more time. I couldn’t quite believe whole heartedly in the HEA because I just wasn’t 100% persuaded that Milan and Rita were solid enough. That said, I think that it’s an incredibly believable and realistic place to have left Milan and Rita, I just wanted a little more. Just a little more. But I would whole-heartedly recommend the book nonetheless and I look forward to reading more from Vale in the future!
A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria
Speaking of books that really felt like they were written with me in mind, A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria delivered on the estranged friends to lovers trope with an absolutely marvelous success. I think the trope is one that’s difficult to pull off given that you have to have a good reason for the estrangement, excellent chemistry, and time and space to work through all the things that the estrangement brought up and A Lot Like Adiós handled that well. Was the ending 100% perfect for me? Maybe not, but it was so close that it may as well have been.
Michelle and Gabe grew up next door to one another, but when he moved away to college, they lost touch. And honestly, “lost touch” is a very mild term to describe the way Gabe cut off Michelle. So when he reaches out because his business partner realized Mich is the one that put together this incredible marketing campaign a few years ago and he wants Michelle to take on the gym that Gabe and he co-run, Gabe is… well, a lot of things. And honestly, so is Michelle. The two wind up in New York and uncover a lot of demons and feelings and it’s electric in a lot of ways.
The characters in this book have such deep back stories and individual arcs and I loved the way Daria played with them and let them explore those issues both together and apart. I love the way she weaved in the fanfiction they used to write together. In essence, I loved a lot of this book, like the whole thing. I loved the exploration of family and I wish we had gotten to see a little more of Gabe’s relationship with his sister. I do want to expound a little more on the family thing though because there is a plot line here that I think could really set someone back if they’re not expecting it, however, it is a bit of a spoiler so if you don’t want to know anything, please skip this next paragraph.
Gabe hasn’t spoken to his father in nine years. Or his mom, for that matter, and has only seen his sister and her kids a couple times in that span of time. Essentially, their estrangement is due to the fact that Gabe’s father never really seemed to approve of Gabe’s plans for his life and a whole bunch of resentment that boiled over and exploded at his sister’s wedding, cumulating with Gabe’s dad telling him not to come back. I thought it was interesting how Daria explores this pain in both Gabe’s relationship with Mich, who never really got it in the past, and the way Gabe eventually is sort of forced into confronting his family. Ultimately, this plot line resolves well and I didn’t think it came across as forgiveness is necessary and that you must allow toxic family members into your life, but I know that the particular subject of family is very sensitive and for some people, this storyline may be something they want to avoid for a bit.
The last few things I want to say are that this book delivers on the spicy content in a way that I thoroughly appreciated and even when Michelle and Gabe weren’t doing anything particularly exciting, the way Daria writes their physical attraction to one another has the sexual tension screaming off the page. Additionally, I loved that both Michelle and Gabe are bi because I love to see that representation. And finally, I love the Primas of Power and I can’t wait to read Ava’s book! So, all in all, I wholeheartedly recommend this one!
With You Forever by Chloe Liese
I have loved all of the Bergman Brothers books in this series and With You Forever was certainly not an exception. First of all, I adore Rooney. She’s sunshine-y throughout the books, but when we meet her as the heroine of her won story, we learn that there’s a lot she’s kept sort of hidden under the surface because she doesn’t want her friends to worry about her. She’s suffering from a chronic illness, ulcerative colitis, I think, and it’s a pain in the butt. Literally and figuratively. She’s also a law student who has taken a semester off to focus on her health and some of the things she says about law school had me emphatically nodding. Law school can be hard on a person’s body. It doesn’t have to be, but one of my friend’s got diagnosed with the same illness toward the end of law school, but fortunately, she did a dual enrollment and was spending less time on the law school portion of her studies that particular semester. Anyway, all that to say, I love Rooney. She’s a nerd and a science geek and it’s adorable the way she is with animals and with Skylar. And we cannot forget Axel. Grumpy Axel, who, tbh, isn’t so much grumpy as he is taciturn and reluctant to speak if he doesn’t have to because sometimes it’s hard for him to figure out what to say. But when he does speak and when he does something to show his love for Rooney, his family, or his friends, it’s beyond precious. He is a sweetheart on every level.
To the surprise of no one, the Bergman’s enjoyed some machinations to ensure that Rooney and Axel would wind up (a) sharing a kiss during charades and (b) that now, months later, Rooney would crash Axel’s time at the A-Frame. Then there is the meddling from Axel’s friends Bennett and Preston, the town busy body, and Skylar. But the most intense meddling in Axel’s life comes in the form of money as an inheritance tied up in him marrying someone. That inheritance is what leads to Axel and Rooney entering a marriage of convenience with only platonic feelings. Right? Obviously not.
The journey of husband and wife in name only to actual romance blooming between Rooney and Axel was delightful, sweet, bittersweet, and sometimes funny. This exchange absolutely broke me:
“You’ll never learn your lesson.”
“And what’s that?”
“That I’m not the kind of person you count on to catch you.”
But there’s levity too, in the book, with two animals eventually entering the picture. But both Rooney and Axel have some issues to work through and honestly, the gesture at the end? Perfection. I don’t really have the words to convey my love for this book or why I think you should pick it up. All I can say is that I think you should because it’s absolutely wonderful.
And those are my three reviews for today! I loved all of these books. Have you read any of them? If so, what did you think? If not, have I persuaded you to pick any of them up? Let me know!